Shohei Ohtani has been one of the most brilliant baseball players in memory, and the first in generations to both pitch and hit at a star level.
But with the announcement late Wednesday that Ohtani won’t pitch again this season because of a tear in the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow of his pitching arm, an end of an era is rapidly approaching for his team, the Los Angeles Angels — though they’ve had little to show for it, despite Ohtani’s heroics.
Ohtani, who is eligible for free agency this off-season, left Wednesday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds with one out in the second inning. The team initially said the reason was arm fatigue, but later said he was finished pitching for the rest of the year, though it could be a lot longer if he chooses to have surgery. He did not pitch for all of 2019 while recovering from Tommy John surgery on the same elbow, but he continued to hit.
Despite being removed from the game on Wednesday, he returned for the second half of the doubleheader as a designated hitter and was 1 for 5 with a double. Ohtani leads the majors with 44 home runs and a .664 slugging percentage. He finished his pitching season with a 10-5 record and a 3.14 E.R.A. that is among the best in the league.
The news came after the Angels refused to move Ohtani at the trading deadline — a move that could have yielded a huge boon in players — and instead tried to persuade him to remain with the team long-term by acquiring several players. The moves subjected the Angels to the luxury tax, and did not have the intended result: Los Angeles has since fallen out of contention with a 4-16 record in August.
More salt in the wound for the team on Wednesday was the news that Mike Trout, long considered the best all-around player in the game, was headed back to the injured list. His return, after six weeks away with a broken bone in his left hand, lasted just one game on Tuesday, with the discomfort proving too much for him to handle.
Over the past six years, the Angels have been a shambles. The team has not made the playoffs or even had a winning record in that time. Ohtani and Trout, though, have provided a dazzling one-two punch; between them, they have won three Most Valuable Player Awards in those six years. But the Angels have struggled to find top players beyond their big two.
Now Ohtani will probably leave in free agency for a marquee team at the end of the season — it is no secret that the nearby Los Angeles Dodgers covet him — and if that were to happen, the Angels would get a measly draft pick in return. Trout is signed through 2030, but if Ohtani goes, he could be traded away as the team starts over from scratch.
Given how much the Angels have struggled despite having two of the best and most exciting players in baseball on their roster, the team’s immediate future seems grim.